Tonight sees the second episode of No Offence. I ought to have flagged up the debut episode last Tuesday, but I was busy performing so, if you didn't see it, I urge you to go to 4OD and watch the first episode in readiness for tonight because this is a corker!
Written by Paul Abbott (Shameless and State of Play) No Offence is a comedy drama set in a Manchester police station. As a result it marks the second attempt Channel 4 has made at injecting wicked humour in the police drama format, having previously made Babylon. Now, I liked Babylon but I always felt its brilliance was just out of reach. No Offence on the other hand has literally hit the ground running - and if you did see the opening episode last week, you'll know from those first moments how ironic that comment is! Comedy drama is a hard format to nail but Abbott manages it beautifully, meshing the laugh out loud wildness of Shameless with the seriousness of his thriller State of Play.
And what a cast!
The squad room is populated by great characters that only truly great actors can portray. There's Joanna Scanlan as DI Vivienne Deering; a coarse bottle blonde and one woman crime fighting wave who manages her team with a mixture of the iron fist and genuine pride. Following Scanlan's disappointing BBC4 'sitcom' Puppy Love it's safe to say she has found a role to match, nay triumph over, her previous good work on The Thick Of It and Getting On. A TV legend in the making, Deering's unfortunate mix up with her breath freshener and her feminine hygiene spray and her barely troubled, in public reaction to it was a joy and, worryingly, she reminded me of many previous line managers I had in the civil service! Then there's her girls, the astute and compassionate DC Dinah Kowalska played by Elaine Cassidy as ostensibly the lead here for whom the audience will identify with, and also Alexandra Roach fresh from the cancelled Utopia as DC Joy Freers who shows an alarming lack of confidence despite having just bagged promotion to DS.
Representing the boys is Will Mellor, once again proving he is now comfortably moving along the turning point of his career, and Friday Night Dinner and The Game's Paul Ritter as a shambolic, bespectacled cop with moments of brilliant investigative genius. There's also Colin Salmon, a man once suggested as potentially being the world's first black James Bond, as Deering's rival DI, known to her politically incorrect self as 'Obama'.
The laughs come thick and fast and have a, perhaps disturbing, ring of authenticity to them that suggests these are the mishaps, conversations and glib remarks that can be seen or heard in the squad room of our police stations. But the drama is key too and the series plot comes in the shape of the discovery that Manchester's Down's syndrome community is being targeted by a perverse and dangerous serial killer. Its a bold taboo move, to take what - on paper - sounds like a plot left over from that other great Manchester crime drama Cracker (which Abbott wrote for) and mix it up with some hilarious comedy, but it really works and this could be the best thing Abbott has ever created.